Donald Trump’s remarkable Thursday press conference, where he floridly swore a pledge of allegiance to the GOP – “and to the conservative principles for which it stands” – marks a crossroads for the party. Trump didn’t declare his fealty to Republicans; he exacted their fealty to him. It’s Donald Trump’s party now, and good luck getting anything but white votes anytime soon.
Jeb Bush says he’s signing the loyalty pledge, too. That commits him to endorsing Trump, if he’s the nominee, no matter how racist or misogynist he gets. Trump has already insulted Bush’s family, suggesting on Twitter that Bush has to support Mexicans because his wife is a Mexican immigrant (Trump deleted that tweet, in a shocking outbreak of discretion.)
By the way, does anyone else associate those Trump jabs at the “low energy” Bush with the commercials warning older men about “low-T?,” or testosterone? Being “low energy” is a sign of low-T, according to the shysters who peddle T-boosting products on daytime television. It’s a typical grade-school Trump attack on his manhood. It reminds me of Sarah Palin’s needling men about “manning up.”
In signing the loyalty pledge, Trump is giving up nothing, while exacting a guarantee from the GOP that the party won’t sabotage his candidacy. As I wrote yesterday, a man with three wives and four bankruptcies behind him has a proven track record of finding an exit clause from his commitments. He could still pursue an independent run if he doesn’t get the nomination.
The truth is that his threat to challenge a GOP nominee who isn’t named Donald Trump was always questionable. It would be incredibly complicated and expensive; and by definition it would come after he lost the GOP nomination, which might brand him with the ultimate Trump insult: loser.
But Trump doesn’t think he’ll have to make good on that threat; his leads in national and state polls (and, crucially, his favorability numbers) are growing, not shrinking. Now he’s gotten the entire GOP field to promise to support him if he’s the nominee, no matter how noxious his campaign turns out to be.
And behind it all was poor Reince Priebus, who kicked off 2013 promising to make the GOP more “inclusive” and welcoming to voters who aren’t old and white. Priebus trooped to New York to kiss Trump’s…ring; he was also kissing goodbye the black and Latino vote for at least another generation. By the way, Priebus’s big loyalty pledge stunt serves to inoculate Trump against Jeb Bush’s favorite line of attack: that he’s a closet Democrat. Great work, Reince.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that Trump will unravel. On the night of his big GOP triumph, he had two scuffles that could hurt him down the road. He seriously botched a foreign policy interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, mixing up Iran’s Quds Force with the Kurds and confusing Hezbollah and Hamas. He criticized Hewitt for his “gotcha” questions, and told him he didn’t need to know the names of foreign leaders because “I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone.”
A little bit later, Hewitt ran the same questions by Carly Fiorina, who aced them by comparison. Hewitt isn’t a great enemy for Trump to have: he’ll be a panelist in the next debate co-sponsored by CNN and his employer, the right-wing Salem Communications.
Then came footage a Trump bodyguard cold-cocking a peaceful demonstrator outside Trump Tower and ripping away his protest signs. An angry Efrain Galicia said Trump’s security men were "just acting like their boss. This man thinks he can do whatever he wants in this country, and we're going to stop him," Galicia said, in Spanish.
But Trump has survived run-ins with Latino protesters and feuds with conservative media figures before. Scraps that would destroy other candidates leave him stronger. I’d like to think the Hewitt interview, at least, will leave a mark, but I’ve lost my capacity to trust the laws of political gravity when it comes to Donald Trump.